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Eating Dirt Never Tasted So Good

Originally appeared in DiningOut Miami

 

Recently, a restaurant called DIRT {232 Fifth Street, Miami Beach; 305.239.3000} opened in Miami Beach. Located just a few blocks from the ocean, the concept is simple: top- notch food prepared fast with a farm-to-counter approach. All of it is designed with the consumer’s health in mind—“food that is good for you and good for the planet,” goes the company mission.

What’s surprising is that, while this is fine food, the restaurant is fast-casual through and through.

“We’re combining top-quality ingredients and a chef- driven menu with order-at-the-counter service,” says Co-Founder Jeff LaTulippe. “And that’s unusual for a fast-casual restaurant.” He explains that, in Miami, there are traditional fast food concepts like McDonald’s and fine-dining restaurants, but a lack of quality options in between. “There just aren’t many good, homegrown concepts in a fast-casual setting,” he says.

At 1,300 square feet and about 40 seats, the space is intimate but bright and airy. Just past the main entrance, there’s a copper wall with an intricate map of Florida showing where DIRT sources much of its local food. “Our values include honesty and transparency,” LaTulippe says. “This helps keep people informed.” The main menu also includes nutritional information and health benefits of the ingredients. Juices are cold-pressed in-house and smoothies are made with house nut milk.

Chef/Director of Operations Nicole Votano manages the culinary side of things, bringing 15 years of experience at institutions like Four Seasons and The Kimpton Group and working under chefs like Michelle Bernstein. She previously managed her own healthy food catering business, giving her valuable experience utilizing local produce.

“In Miami, we’re lucky to have a long growing season that starts in October and doesn’t end until May,” Votano says. “At DIRT, we try to let the season and produce dictate what we’ll serve, while also following some of the latest food trends.”

When guests come to DIRT, they look at a wall with a menu on a screen or pick up a pamphlet. Specials are listed on a board, and the menu highlights the paleo, gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options so guests immediately know which dishes fit their dietary needs and preferences. After ordering, guests receive a number, find a table, and then their food and drinks are delivered to the table.

“We use linen napkins and real silverware, so the experience matches the fine food,” LaTulippe says. “But we are truly fast-casual, and do whatever we can to make the guest experience as quick and easy as possible.” Delivery service and pay-ahead options make it easy to get meals quickly and efficiently, even if you live outside Miami Beach.

The diverse, seasonal menu changes every three months, with a new version rolling out in April. Spring vegetables like mushrooms, asparagus, and peas will play a bigger role. Look for the Santorini Salad with Harissa hummus, farro, cucumbers, sprouted chickpeas, feta, and Kalamata olives. “I intend to make a seasonal version of that salad several times a year,” Votano explains. Other spring dishes include the Seoul Bowl with spiced Napa cabbage, carrots, and sesame seeds with your choice of protein, and the Smoky Vegetable and Bean Chili with poblano peppers and sweet potato.

Even though the food is high-quality and well- prepared, the whole menu is intended to be served fast and at an approachable price point; DIRT recently added “Lite Bites” to the menu, which are priced at $10 or less.

For the immediate term, LaTulippe and Votano will focus on fine-tuning their flagship store. The hope is to open additional locations when the time is right, but their overarching goal will remain steadfast: to make healthy food as convenient and accessible as possible.

Kim Kirby

London, UK